What is it about the human desire to be around things that are old? Think about it. We scour antique stores searching for tabletop trinkets made in Transylvania. We hit our local estate sales with the same enthusiasm as a minor league player stepping up to the plate for the very first time. And we’re even happy to buy watches from retail shops that have a layer of dust on their shelves thicker than the Spring issue of Vogue. To us, old can mean established. It can represent wisdom, or endurance, or even reliability. Old means something of substance stood the test of time, which is why displaying time in a building as old as Gotham Hall is as fitting as it is festive.
It could very well be coincidence that the organizers of WatchTime New York chose this curious venue – the former Greenwich Savings Bank building, completed in 1924 – to hold their fair, or it could be that the team did their research and saw the tie-in with time. Greenwich is not just a village in New York City. As we all know (or should know), Greenwich is the area near London which in 1884 was assigned the line of 0 degrees longitude. It is from this point, all terrestrial longitudes are measured, and the world’s time zones are calculated. GMT, also known as Greenwich Mean Time, plays *the* essential role in modern timekeeping. “The whole world takes it’s time from Greenwich” is a line uttered by Dick Van Dyke’s character Bert in the 1964 musical Mary Poppins, and for many a New York-based collector, enthusiast, and watch journalist, the weekend of October 26th, 2018 meant exactly that.
While not an established entity, per se, the days leading up to WatchTime New York have unofficially been dubbed “New York Watch Week” because of the multitude of events and gatherings thrown by brands and retailers, alike.
When an affair such as this is able to gather watch personalities such as Romain Gauthier, Fiona Krüger, Stephen Forsey, Montblanc’s Davide Cerrato, and others in one place at one time, the main event is bound to grow legs, which frankly, is a good thing for the future of the watch industry. Think of the pregame festivities as the watch world’s foreplay before the climax that is Watchtime New York. (Yes, I just drew an analogy between a watch fair and sex [just ask Stephen Forsey] because let’s face it, I can, and if not me, who?) And if WTNY is indeed the climax, then consider the weekly RedBar gathering on the Wednesday before as a solid attempt at reaching first base.
This year’s pre-WTNY RedBar brought in faces seldom seen this side of the pond, with one face in particular being a complete New York newbie: Rexhep Rexhepi, who was going to be showing his creations at the WatchTime show for the first time. Like most human beings who’ve visited New York as a Big Apple virgin, Rexhep was smitten. “Everyone has been so nice” he said, and I thanked my lucky stars he hadn’t yet visited Brooklyn before making that statement.
Attendees of Wednesday’s RedBar were treated to another surprise… a guest appearance by watch connoisseur, artist, and actor, Aldis Hodge, who for some reason, willingly stayed until “closing ceremonies”, giving those in attendance a line we won’t soon forget: “Wow, this looks like all kinds of bad decisions.” Indeed it was, Aldis. Indeed… it… was.
The Main Event
As with previous editions of WTNY, this year’s fair also included a variety of seminars and talks in order to further the horological education of those in attendance. The talks included a discussion on the future of watch collecting, a panel with American watchmakers and designers, and an opportunity to meet and ask questions of some of the independent watchmakers mentioned earlier in this post.
What was also refreshing to see with regard to WatchTime New York, was just how many women were in attendance, whether they be running the show (women like Sara Orlando, Minda Larsen, and Ana Martins are largely responsible for keeping this thing going), attending the show as collectors, working the show as watchmakers (shout out to my homegirl Nat at Jaeger-LeCoultre!) or exhibitors, or covering it as members of the press. It felt as if this year saw a real increase in women attendees which will hopefully nudge the big brands even more to pay attention to those often forgotten in the past.
But the biggest takeaway from WatchTime New York that any person with a pulse could summon is that they directly reach the often unreachable: the everyday buyer. Is it an event that welcomes serious watch collectors? Sure, but collectors aren’t the only buyers in the marketplace. WTNY is open to the public for a minimal ticket price, which means the average Joe/Joanne can attend and not be afraid to ask questions, unlike if they stepped foot into a high-end watch retailer. Look, I’m only as successful (sort of) as I am because I am able to reach the people who are novices; because I have been able to learn about this business while taking my reader along with me for the ride. Not every reader out there is schooled in horology, nor do many of them even know what a flying tourbillon is (or care), so to have a trade fair that is inclusive to both the dilletantes as well as the novices is important to the future of this industry, and Watchtime New York accomplishes this task successfully and has so year after year.
So, kudos to the organizers for another great event. Hopefully New York will become a force to be reckoned with in the very near future as it pertains to the worldwide watch industry, and with Baselworld going through the changes it currently is, the future looks about as bright in New York City as a big, shiny apple. (The fruit. Not the wannabe watch.)
(Images provided by WatchTime New York)
“If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable.”
The above lines were taken from the “Burnt Norton” poem in T.S. Eliot’s famed works, The Four Quartets. And while many refer to the poet as being an American because he was born in St. Louis, Eliot had technically renounced his United States citizenship in 1927 after legally becoming a British subject. Despite what was written on his 1888 birth certificate, Eliot considered himself to be quite the Englishman until the day of his death in 1965, and it is widely known that the poet lived his life obsessed with a single primary concept…
The first international Horology Forum took place on September 11th and 12th in the heart of London. The event – the brainchild of the creators of Dubai Watch Week and co-sponsored by Christie’s auction house – invited experts and novices alike to attend a series of thought-provoking panels and take part in free-flowing discussions in order to “bridge the widening generation gap between tradition and innovation,” according to the forum’s organizers. In other words, a slew of folks from all over the world gathered in the city where T.S. Eliot took his final breaths and likely closed the book on his obsession with time.
The forum itself consisted of five panels (Battle of the Soothsayers; Cultural Clout – the iBuyer Cult; The British Watch Industry: Colonizing Greenwich Meridian; When David Clocks Goliath; and, Genta and Daniels’ Punctual Yet Untimely Legacy), and one good ol’ fashioned British roast (which actually turned out to be a bit more of a ‘warming’ due to the very British politeness of those on the panel).
As an honored invitee to the event and guest moderator for the iBuyer Cult panel, I was treated not only to the experience of listening to and learning from speakers such as Peter Speake-Marin, Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, Fabrizio Buonamassa, Grégory Dourde, Christine Hutter, and Roger Smith, but was also able to take part in additional events such as a fascinating seminar at Christie’s Late on
how color plays a major role in watchmaking (and always has throughout history), and an auctioneer training class that happened prior to Wednesday’s first panel discussion. Members of the press were also given the opportunity to interview the speakers and the moderators, allowing me to take full advantage of one-on-one time with H. Moser & Cie CEO Edouard Meylan, actor and watch designer Aldis Hodge, and Christie’s SVP and International Head of Watches John Reardon.
Mr. Reardon told me about his first experience with mechanical watches. “I will share a story today I never shared before,” he said to me when we first sat down for his interview, “because I’m inspired by the Princess Leia sticker you have on your computer. When I was six or seven years old, my parents, for Christmas, gave me a Buck Rodgers plastic watch. I was obsessed with sci-fi things as a child. It was a mechanical watch with plastic gears, and they were all different colors. I still have it to this day, and it still doesn’t work, because the first thing I did was take it apart. I was curious, ‘how does this little machine work?’ so I took it apart and tried to put it back together. I was inspired and curious as to how these little objects tell time, from a little kid’s perspective.”
Mr. Hodge also allowed me to take a glimpse into his childhood, to where his passion for watches and watch design began. “I love natural elements. I had a scientific mind when I was younger; I always wanted to be an engineer of some sort. For me, [getting into watchmaking] is a staple of achievement because I’ve been an actor since I was 2 or 3 years old. I would have had to quit that entirely in order to achieve my academic desires, but with watchmaking, that sort of encompasses art, architecture, engineering, and science.”
My conversation with Mr. Meylan delved more into his thoughts on the changes occurring in Basel, his company’s presence there, and which markets around the world he sees as becoming key players in the success of his brand. “Right now, for us, our two biggest markets are Asia and Europe, with Hong Kong and Switzerland being substantial. Germany and France are also good markets for us in Europe. But the two markets where we are seeing the strongest growth are definitely the Middle East and the United States. My brother just moved to Dubai, actually. We opened an office there, and the brand is really doing well.”
What Horology Forum and Dubai Watch Week succeed at accomplishing, where some other horologically-themed events falter, is invoking discussions that are current and relevant, and which are also hot topics often able to be intelligently debated. The panel I moderated is a perfect example of this. When I asked Scottish watch designer Fiona Krüger if there was a time when a watch world dilettante ever commented on one of her designs via the internet, she said that they had and proceeded to give an example of a remark made on her most recent watch release, the Chaos Mechanical Entropy. “One of the examples I got online was, ‘somebody take her computer away’ to which my reaction was, ‘I’m sorry mate, but I draw everything by hand in a sketch book, so, unlucky for you.’” We eventually moved the panel in the direction of influencers – particularly on social media – and whether or not the term is seen as a “dirty word” in the horological world. Watch brand D1 Milano’s founder Dario Spallone was the first to offer an opinion. “For me, an influencer is someone who influences the purchasing habit of the consumer. It’s not only about being an Instagram influencer. It’s also about being someone who – in real life – intertwines with the brand’s values.” And while discussion and debate happened naturally during each of Horology Forum’s panels, it was the eventual audience participation that left many wanting more. This is where the beauty of this event truly blooms into something spectacular, and this is why it’s incredibly important to gather people from every area of the watch world – be they designer, watchmaker, savant, collector, journalist, blogger, executive, retailer, or novice – in order to better understand our industry. What we, as attendees of Horology Forum and Dubai Watch Week, get to experience is the horological world through someone else’s eyes. We get to look at how the masters see their life’s work, at how artists are inspired, at what writers find interesting, and at what retailers do to speak to their customers. If every industry – heck, if every government – held an event yearly like this, we’d likely find that we’d see one another in a different way, and that we’d understand each other or, at bare minimum, hear each other out. I doubt that everything discussed at Horology Forum was agreed upon by all those in attendance, but it also wasn’t supposed to be. The event was created to make us think, at least in my opinion it was, and it certainly made me think long and hard about why I chose to write about watches and how I’ll see them in the future.
My days spent in London leading up to and including this event were invaluable. Listening to the stories about Gérald Genta and the “rebirth” of British watchmaking were indispensable. And gaining the knowledge I did while still a rookie in the world of watch journalism was, well, irreplaceable. But mostly, the entire experience is one that will remain truly unforgettable.
The final experience we had as a collective group was a beautifully arranged dinner at Boulestin, courtesy of our hosts. There, we were invited to relax in the company of our peers, sip fine wine and eat delicious French fare before saying our final goodbyes and heading off to our little corners of the Earth. It was a magnificent send-off filled with warmth and cheer, and I’m ever grateful to all of those who made it possible, and who also asked me to play such an important part in it.
So, to Melika Yazdjerdi – whom I had the pleasure of interviewing prior to this year’s Horology Forum – I congratulate you on a truly special, successful, one-of-a-kind experience. Your vision comes to life in this event, and we in the watch community owe you a debt of gratitude. To Hind Seddiqi and your entire team of AMAZING WOMEN, I cannot thank you enough. I have never felt so welcomed and so valued in the watch community as I had during this event. Thank you so, so much. To Shruti Dileep, what can I say? Thank you for being my “go-to” for everything; every question, every need, every worry. You’re the best. And to Dominique Mahoney, well, I feel like we were separated at birth, and I’ll just leave it at that. I cannot wait to work with you again someday. Thank you to John Reardon and those at Christie’s who helped to make this possible, and special thanks to everyone at Seddiqi Holdings who played a part in the organization and follow-through of Horology Forum.
“I journeyed to London, to the timekept City/Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.” – T.S. Eliot, The Rock
“The only way to break out is to gamble.” – Jerry Jones
Las Vegas, June 3rd, 2016.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been there for work about four or five billion times (or so I’ve felt). Maybe it’s because “fake” isn’t my thing, so the fake city, fake Eiffel Tower, fake cheekbones, fake sculptures, and fake fun doesn’t really appeal to me. Or, maybe it’s because paying $27 for a mediocre gin martini presented to me by an obsequious “mixologist” seems, oh, I don’t know, like something Dean Martin would be really pissed off about if he were alive today. But man, I REALLY hate Las Vegas. Hate hate it. Like, how my eight-year-old daughter hates green foods, or like how Canadians hate the word “hate” because let’s be honest, in their minds, it could just as easily be replaced by the word “like” in any sentence. But on this night, I found myself in Las Vegas, three months into writing this here watch blog, and two glasses of wine into the COUTURE Show opening party at the Wynn hotel, sponsored by none other than LVMH watch brand, TAG Heuer.
One doesn’t have to be a WIS to know the back story of Jean-Claude Biver; one simply has to be somewhat literate and hopefully have a pulse to be even vaguely aware of the watch world giant. By the time I made the decision to take my writing over to the watch side, I’d read my fair share of articles and heard my fair share of stories of the man who many describe still as “larger than life.”
I remember just having wrapped up a conversation with Scott Saunders of London Jewelers when Mr. Biver was introduced, before he graciously took the microphone as he stepped on to the COUTURE Show stage. His remarks seemed quaint to me at first; simple, and yet substantial. Everyone in the crowd stood still, patiently hanging on to JCB’s words which were becoming more intense by the second.
“ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!” he finally exclaimed loudly into the mic, giving credit to the Beatles for a line that even the millennials in the room would recognize. Love. He was yelling about love. Here was a man so bold, and so recognized, and so successful, and he was talking to a room full of jewelry and watch people about a universal emotion as simple – and as complicated – as love. About the power of love. About the positivity of love. And about love’s effect on everything we do in our lives and every decision we make. “All you need… is love.”
By the time he left the stage, the room acted as if it had just witnessed a modern-day prophet perform a miracle for the ages. People were cheering so vehemently I wondered if Mr. Biver would actually come back out and sing “Freebird” while we all swayed and raised our cigarette lighters. It was astonishing to witness and awe-inspiring at the same time. I wanted to start hugging strangers in the room and tell them I loved them (but I didn’t because when you do that in Vegas, people get the wrong idea about what you actually do for a living). I was invigorated, and felt kind of… well, lucky… and when you’re feeling lucky in Vegas there’s really only one place to go…
Vegas was built for a reason, and that reason was money, and money alone. Gambling is the fabric used in the tattered quilt that blankets the city, and to go and not gamble even once seems almost sacrilegious, so I decided to head inside to the Wynn’s grand casino and take my chances at the tables.
The sounds of coins falling and bells ringing are synonymous with Vegas. The smell of a casino floor can’t be replicated – nor should it – as the lingering feelings of both hope and despair hang tauntingly in the recycled air. Yet as I strolled through the crowds of thirty-something bachelors and their nightly rent-a-dates toward the blackjack area, I could see a figure walking quickly toward me in the mix of what would appear to be an entourage.
It was The Prophet, himself: Mr. Jean-Claude Biver.
I’d never met him before, nor had I met anyone in the watch world who held a position such as his. I was new still, and green, and honestly, I didn’t know crap about the industry. But he was headed my way, and I knew that if I didn’t at least tell him that I liked his speech, I’d lose an opportunity I might never get again. But what happens if I stop him and he wants to talk watches? I can’t fake it! Vegas or not, I suck at bullshitting.
The more I thought about it, the closer he got, and when he had just walked past me, I idiotically blurted out his name.
He turned toward me, almost startled, and his people turned too.
“I’m Barbara Palumbo. I write a watch blog called WhatsOnHerWrist. It’s sort of focused on women. I’m a fan though, and I saw your speech, and I just wanted to meet you.”
He smiled his wide, toothy smile as he walked back toward me and took my business card from my outstretched and slightly shaking hand, before reaching into his pocket and handing me his in return.
We spoke for a few minutes, once I calmed my nerves, and he told me to email him any time if I had any questions or needed anything. Then he shook my hand, and he and his people walked off into the desert night while I stood there staring at the plain white business card which bore his name.
Upon my return home to Atlanta, I wrote a recap of my experience at COUTUREtime and decided to take Mr. Biver up on his offer, so I emailed it to him, and to my surprise, received a reply within the hour:
“Hello Barbara, thank you for your email and article! I enjoyed reading it and could imagine you enjoying writing it. Hope to catch up with you soon.”
It was, for someone like me, a moment I won’t soon forget.
You see, I guess I’m still green. I like people who are nice to me; who take the time to mentor me, and do right by me, knowing that I’m in this to learn, and that no matter what happens, or what road bumps I hit, I’m not giving up. I like writing about brands who employ good people; positive people. I enjoy sharing their stories because this industry is about more than mere material possessions with a history. Watches ARE their people. Watches wouldn’t exist without their designers or their creators or their marketers or sellers or CEOs or those, like me, who tell their stories. And this simple moment – this gamble that I took in Vegas at the very beginning – put me on the right mental path, because it showed me that someone as important to the watch world as Jean-Claude Biver was willing to take the time and share a kind word of support with someone like me, who was just starting out.
So, to you, Mr. Biver, I say “cheers” today. Cheers on celebrating your 69th birthday, on celebrating forty extraordinary years doing what you seemingly love, and on deciding to take time for you in a different way than you had been recently. We know that you’re still around for those of us who have questions or need anything, but speaking for myself, you already gave me what it was I needed.
Thank you, sir. I guess that’s really all I wanted to say through this story. Merci.
Last November I had the privilege of being invited to attend my first ever Dubai Watch Week which I wrote about here on this very blog. It was unlike anything I’d experienced in the watch industry before; there were classes for things like enameling, engraving, and watchmaking. And there were presentations by big-named brands that were more intimate than those which occur at the trade shows. But the part that stood out most for me was the Horology Forum; a series of panel discussions covering a variety of topics and including an even wider variety of personalities and experts from a wide range of the watch world.
This year, in lieu of a complete program in Dubai, the organizers of Dubai Watch Week joined forces with Christie’s to bring the Horology Forum concept to London. I sat down this week with Melika Yazdjerdi — Director of Dubai Watch Week — to find out about the first edition of the International Horology Forum and if we can expect to see more editions in the future.
BP: So happy to be in London, Melika, and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. When did the idea for the International Horology Forum first come to mind? Was it before or after the 2017 edition of Dubai Watch Week?
MY: When we developed the blueprint for Dubai Watch Week back in 2015, we wanted to create different programs with the goal that it would eventually evolve into a self-sustaining and independent horological entity. The Horology Forum is one of the key programs that drives the progression of Dubai Watch Week and we have been waiting for the right time to launch the first international chapter. The whole point of the Horology Forum was always to unite watch industry players from all around the globe with ease and in a casual manner. Like the nature of the free-flowing content of the Forum, the event is malleable and is not constricted to a location or time.
BP: Who are you hoping to see in attendance at the inaugural event taking place in London this September? Is it geared toward any one group in particular?
MY: We hope to see collectors, journalists and anyone with an appreciation for the art of time keeping. We also anticipate new collectors or novice enthusiasts interested in delving deeper into horology and meeting patrons of the industry. It is always important to reach new audiences or even old skeptics and bridge the ever-growing gap between the puritans and innovators.
BP: Was there a reason London, specifically, was chosen as the location for the International Horology Forum?
MY: It was a mutual decision between the Christie’s and the Dubai Watch Week team as London is an important horological market and has a rich heritage in the industry. A great number of collectors and watch enthusiasts as well as some prominent figures of the community are based there, which makes it the platform for the first international Horology Forum. London is also a centralized city, similar to Dubai’s demographic make up which is a great melting pot for us to cater to. Geographically, London is accessible to a majority of the members in the industry, marrying the European, Asian, and American markets.
BP: Do you have plans to have more Horology Forums take place in the future? If yes, would you consider alternate locations and how frequently would you like to see an International Horology Forum take place?
MY: The Horology Forum is an annual event and an integral part of the Dubai Watch Week programs. The aim is to have forum held every alternate year at Dubai Watch Week, and every other year abroad. As for its location, we do not plan on committing to a single destination internationally.
BP: What can attendees expect to experience at the first International Horology Forum that they would not experience elsewhere in the watch world?
MY: In addition to harvesting a relaxed and impactful environment for riveting discussions between our panelists, we are focusing on the revival of the British horological legacy. Together with Christie’s, we are also organizing the first “Auctioneer Training” in the Horology Forum for the media, so that they can have firsthand experience in the art of auction sales. Furthermore, a new activity will be introduced this year called “The Roast” where audience members will ask the ‘Roast Panelists’ Carte Blanche questions to further enrich a genuine exchange of information and ideas.
BP: How did the partnership with Christie’s Auction House come to fruition for this event?
MY: Christie’s has been a principal supporter of Dubai Watch Week and has been a partner since the first edition of Dubai Watch Week. Each year, we develop and introduce new pioneering programs and initiatives with the aim to educate and preserve the rich heritage of the colorful horological history.
BP: Will Horology Forum be geared more toward watch collectors and watch experts, or will novices also benefit from being in attendance?
MY: The event is catered to everyone who understands and appreciates the art of horology.
BP: And lastly, when should we expect to hear more about the next edition of Dubai Watch Week?
MY: The 4th edition will be dedicated to showcasing the ingenuity and creativity of the industry, aptly themed, Innovation and Technology. There is an astronomical amount of talent, skill, modernism, and dedication when it comes to the watch industry, and we would like to celebrate that aspect. We plan to share more details by the end of the year.
Many thanks to Melika Yazdjerdi for taking the time to share her thoughts with me about Horology Forum which starts tomorrow, September 11th, and runs through September 12th. You can find the complete list of panel discussion topics here.
It feels to me that Baselworld – the once raven-haired, blue-eyed star quarterback/student body president/drama club lead of the world’s watch and jewelry trade fairs – has recently been reduced to the smelly kid in class who brings tuna for lunch and occasionally chews his erasers. In other words, it’s become quite unpopular. And yet, many of us have been convinced that if we want to be successful in this industry, we need to get to know it better; to find the good in it, even if others don’t necessarily agree. And that’s exactly what I set out to do when I signed up for my third ever visit to the fair.
The City, Itself
This year I made the decision to get into the city a day earlier than I usually do and it was the best travel choice I’ve made in the last three years. Basel – two days before press day – was quiet and snowcapped and genuinely lovely.
What many don’t realize is that Basel is the third most populous city in Switzerland (behind Zürich and Geneva) and is historically significant for a variety of reasons, including that the first ever museum that showcased art to the public – the Kunst – happens to be located there. A word of advice, however: make sure you pronounce the name of the museum correctly to the local cab drivers. If not, well, it can be quite offensive. Or so I’ve heard.
And while I agree with many of my colleagues that some of the city’s restaurants raise their prices significantly while the fair is in town, I don’t find the rates to be all that different than touristy restaurants in San Francisco or on the strip in Las Vegas (how’s that forty-dollar martini at The Wynn working out for ya?). I’ve succumbed to the fact that Basel is pricey, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay once per year to be able to walk away with the information I’m given. Maybe it’s naïve, but I’m also still at the “you have to spend money to make money” stage of my career.
But first, Let Me Take a Wristie
Think about this for a minute… if you’re one of the handful of people who can afford to get yourself to Basel or who works for a company that will either partially or fully pay for your journey, you’re a rare breed, and Baselworld – for all of its quirks – can be quite an extraordinary experience if you allow yourself to get past the show’s lackluster Wi-Fi and lack of places to sit.
One click on the #Baselworld2018 hashtag on Instagram will pull up nearly 50,000 posts, with likely 90% of those being wrist shots, or “wristies”, which means you are amongst the watch-loving elite, and that means solid, interesting conversations, wristwatch comparisons, and potential selfies with celebrities like KISS drummer Eric Singer or Instagram sensation Anish Bhatt – aka @watchanish – who is always happy to take one.
It’s Like Living in a Benetton Ad!
The diversity of Baselworld is truly one of the show’s greatest attributes. Think of it like a trip to the United Nations but slightly less stuffy and with a lot more champagne and much nicer suits. The conversations being had leading up to the turnstiles alone are enough to make you think you’ve mistakenly woken up at the foot of The Tower of Babel, but that’s also the beauty of the show and proof that the world can come together in peace and harmony if we could just find something to love as a people; and in the case of Baselworld, that something just happens to be the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000.
Let’s Not Forget, “The Presence of Greatness”
I think the saddest part for me about some of the negativity I’ve read about Baselworld is that people out there are assuming what brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe want, or what they’re eventually going to do as it pertains to showing at the fair, and to be honest, I don’t believe anyone really knows. But as it stands right now, if you’re a retailer or a journalist or a collector, and you want to see the new releases as they come out from either of the aforementioned watch industry titans as well as many others, then finding a way to get yourself to Basel is what you’re going to have to do, at least, for now. If these brands aren’t complaining when they’re spending millions upon millions to be there, then why should we? They invite us out for dinners, let us hang out at their top-shelf-stacked bars inside of their beautifully-decorated booths and show us a grand ol’ time while showing us their brand-new timepieces (Pepsi GMT, anyone?), so who are we to say what they should do or what we would do if we were in their positions? I’m all for letting the big boys think for themselves, because after well over a hundred years of being in business, I’m fairly certain they know what they’re doing.
Come on… Admit it… There’s Nothing Like Les Trois Rois
You can go ahead and build Geneva up all you want, but there is just something about being in a bar where you can barely move, breathe, or hear yourself think with 350 of your closest international friends. For me, Les Trois Rois is like a family reunion; with a twenty-plus-year background in jewelry sales, marketing, and media, I know almost all of the American jewelry retailers and buyers personally. But that also means I can’t move three inches in one direction without being recognized (at 5’10”, I’m pretty easy to spot), and that’s usually when the hugs, stories, and drinks start flowing.
This year I surprisingly stuck to a “one drink at the Three Kings” rule for myself and it worked out beautifully. That rule allowed me to be at the bar long enough to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, have a brief conversation with collector Gary Getz about what happened when I tried to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, and network one end of the bar to the other before bidding my friends a fond “auf wiedersehen/au revoir”. Regardless, it’s moments like those had at Les Trois Rois that separate our industry from so many of the others. We love watches, sure, but we mostly like the camaraderie that comes along with our love for watches (um, hello, RedBar anyone?) which is why the social aspect of Baselworld is just as important as the business one.
In closing, I have no crystal ball, and I haven’t been doing this long enough to feel strongly enough one way or the other about whether or not Baselworld will be around in 2020, or 2030, or 2050. For now, what I do understand is that despite the cost, I come back from the fair knowing more than I did before I left for it, and as a writer who is learning as she goes, that – to me – is worth the price of admission.
For a year that started off with the inauguration of a p*ssy-grabbing, attention-seeking, twitter-obsessed nutjob, 2017 sure as heck turned out better than I expected from a professional standpoint. So without holding back, I’m going to reflect on all that made this year both great and less than stellar, while addressing a few things I’d like to clear up before 2018 knocks on my door.
The Ups, Chronologically
January 2017 started off brilliantly with an invite to my first ever Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. This came as a surprise to me, as well as to many others, since at the time I had only been writing about watches for ten months total. However, my first SIHH was an experience I’ll never forget, and with an invite to attend the 2018 edition it was clear to me that the Richemont brands were largely on board with what I’m doing as a watch writer, and where I’m headed in the future.
March’s Baselworld also proved to be successful, more so when compared to the edition I attended the year before where I pretty much had to bribe the brands with gold bullion in order to get an appointment. Not only was it easier to see watch companies (who thankfully recognized my name and face this year), but it also proved to be a great year for writing gigs, with several interviews happening during the show for various well-known and well-respected publications.
April was filled with speaking engagements at the American Gem Society Conclave in Hollywood, The Women’s Jewelry Association chapter in Chicago, and the Gold Conference at the City University of New York, where my colleagues Monica Stephenson, Peggy Jo Donahue, and I discussed Federal Trade Commission guidelines for disclosure in media; a topic that should be more important within the watch journalism community than it seemingly is. (Full disclosure, people: It’s not just the law, it’s federal law.)
Then along came May and June and an eighteen-day, all-expenses paid trip to Italy to appear in ads and commercials for Celebrity Cruises; something I’ve done with my life partner since 2014. See, writing about watches isn’t my only job, which I’m going to talk a little bit more about later when I get to the “rumors” part of this post.
July was exciting, as I was nominated again for a Women’s Jewelry Association Award for Excellence in the Media category, and while the award went to a different writer, the trip to New York gave me another opportunity to be around my friends and colleagues in the jewelry and watch worlds, as well as to co-host a successful “Whiskey-ish Breakfast” with my AGS Young Titleholder crew. Love you guys! Thanks for always having my back!
August sent me to Houston for Watchonista with Hublot to hang out and golf with Olympian Patrick Reed, and September sent me to Vicenza, Italy where I would experience the grandeur that was the Vicenzaoro Boutique Show and their newest addition to the show – the Not Ordinary Watches (N.O.W.) section, whose focus was on independent watch brands at reasonable price points.
October, however, is when it really started to hit me that what I do for living goes beyond just words on a screen, and that there are women out there who look to me for advice and guidance; a fact that I will never take for granted.
In the first week of October, I was invited to speak in Seattle at a WJA Chapter Event that directly addressed women’s issues, particularly sexual harassment in the jewelry and watch industries. As a sexual assault survivor, victim of sexual harassment, and two-time author of articles about sexual harassment and discrimination in the jewelry and watch industries, it was important for me to be able to be an ear for these women who were willing to open up and share their stories not only with me, but with others who had their own stories. On the day I spoke to the group, the Harvey Weinstein story ran in the New York Times. The timing for this discussion was fitting, and poignant, and needed, and I’ve decided to go even further with these discussions once 2018 rolls around thanks to the encouragement of my friend, jewelry designer Wendy Brandes.
November brought me into the big blue sky for a couple of important reasons: first, to fly with daredevil champion pilot Mike Goulian for a story about Alpina watches for Watchonista; and second, to take a sixteen-hour flight to Dubai as a guest of Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons for the amazingly phenomenal experience that was Dubai Watch Week.
December ended in the most spectacular way possible: driving and judging the Robb Report Cars of the Year for 2018 on a trip to South Florida set up by my wonderful friends at Provident Jewelry. Oh, and I also got to hang out with and pick the brain of the one and only Maximilian Büsser for a couple of days. No big deal, though. Just Max, Me, and an MB&F Legacy Machine on my wrist.
As mentioned, it was overall a pretty damned good year in my eyes, minus a few bumps, as will be mentioned below.
The Downs, Haphazardly
While 2017 had few downs, there were certainly moments where people showed their true colors, their deeper motivations, and the fact that the almighty dollar will often be enough to quiet something that should be a movement. “Money talks/bullshit walks” could have been the mantra for the year 2017, but still, I didn’t let that fact get the best of me.
One of the downs for me is knowing that there are seemingly respected and well-known watch brands out there who use/support/pay influencers to post about their watches without fully disclosing that the influencer has been compensated, and without making sure that the influencer states – in accordance with FTC guidelines – that said influencer/blogger/instagrammer has been paid either via money or product to endorse said brand. Maybe this is me being naïve. Maybe it’s me being in the “Joe Thompson mindset.” You know… the mindset that believes that journalism can’t be bought, and that without unbiased journalism this industry (and this country) will fast wind up in the shitter. But even with it being the downer it is, I’m still doing my best to stand steadfast in my decision to write editorially, and ethically, and to do so with heart, and in my own voice.
Another down for me was noticing just how often brand press releases are merely regurgitated then posted to what many believe to be legitimate news websites in order to be passed off unknowingly to the reader as “journalism.” Although, I guess it’s a down that allows me to stand out from the “copy/paste” crowd. So, I guess that could also be an up, yeah? An up for me, but a down for the act of having an original thought. Ah well.
And lastly, one of the downs brought to my attention was the pressure put on some of those in the watch community whom I have good relationships with by members of the Old Guard, with regard to said relationships. You know the Old Guard… every industry has them. They’re the group of folks who came before you, who feel that simply because they’ve been doing the job longer they’re better at it than you are, or know more than you do, or that they are entitled to opportunities and press trips and event invitations before you (heaven forbid they actually try to mentor you. Oh, heavens no! Why would they do THAT??) The Old Guard is sort of like the Mafia; not *really* all that relevant anymore, and yet people still fear them out of some sort of tradition and ritual. And this “down” wasn’t so much that it was a down for me, but rather a down for those in the industry who’ve had to be subjected to the drama and nonsense that the Old Guard bestowed upon them, because of their own insecurities. It’s sad really. Sad, and a little bit evil. But… the poor Old Guard never quite met the likes of me. The Old Guard has clearly never been to Philly.
Ah, the rumors. Yes, the rumors have certainly added to 2017 in an interesting and yet disheartening sort of way. The rumors have ranged all the way from writers claiming I’m trying to steal their jobs to those who’re saying I’m trying to screw my way into the watch industry. It’s so fun being me these days. So much fun having to look someone in the face and wonder whether or not they think I’m a legitimate writer or a vamp who’s trying to sleep her way into… um… well… into what exactly? I mean, if there’s an industry anyone would try to sleep their way into, would it really be watches? Have you seen watch people? No offense guys, but, beards really aren’t my thing. So let’s talk truths now.
Here’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… unadulterated, uncensored, and unbiased. And if you can’t handle strong language, or a strong opinion, then I suggest you close your browser now.
Truth: I am a twenty-two-year veteran of the jewelry industry. Just over two years ago, when I decided to write about watches, it was because the only watch articles I found even vaguely interesting by writers based in the United States were ones written by men. Nothing made me laugh. Plenty made me think, but not in an emotional way. Everything was stoic, and exact. Things were written mechanically and largely for collectors or experts. Not much was written for the novice, let alone the female novice, and so I set forth to change that. I write for me and people like me. I write for buyers like me. I write for retailers who know me, who think like I do, and who trust my opinion. I write to entertain my reader, and to engage them through the story. I don’t write for the brands; I write for those who buy the brands. I write in my own voice, with my own words, and with my own thoughts. For those spreading the rumors, you should put down your drink, take your head out of your ass, and try that for a change.
Truth: I am a mother to two kids, ages seven and eleven; one girl, and one boy. To think that anyone who knows that fact would willingly try to destroy my reputation through untruths and deceit angers me to a level I’m not comfortable with. To think that my daughter still lives in a world where her worth will be determined by what people will believe about her sex life is astounding to me, and I’m embarrassed for those who would take part in such behavior. It’s shameful and disgusting, and karma is a bitch.
Truth: I have had my fair share of sex in my life, not that it’s anyone’s business, because let’s face it, how many men do you know in the watch or the jewelry industry who’ve f*cked or hit on everything with a pulse? Plenty, though I’ll refrain from naming any of them. But because they’re men, no one says a peep. No one blinks. Women are held to some ridiculous standard when it comes to the amount of sex they have or who they’ve had it with or when – and largely that standard is held up by other women. My husband is well aware of my sexual history (after all, he’s edited this here piece) and has neither judged me nor taken issue with it. And his is the only opinion that matters to me at the end of the day.
Truth: Don’t worry about what I’m doing. Worry about why you’re worried about what I’m doing. If you’re so petty as to tell blatant lies about someone whom you see as a threat, then you seriously need a f**king hobby. As for me, I’ll be over here raising my two bright, creative, and well-adjusted kids, cooking like an Iron Chef, modelling part-time for an internationally-known company that sends me all over the world (and pays me a shit-ton), speaking to and mentoring women who are trying to find their way in this industry, and writing about watches in an original, fun, and unique way that has gotten me noticed like you’ve never been noticed IN YOUR LIFE. So, at the end of the day, do yourself a favor and remember these tasty little morsels the next time you want to open your mouth about me:
I will outwrite you.
I will outsmart you.
I will out-dress you.
I will out-etiquette you.
And I will do so with a soufflé in one hand and a paycheck in the other, all while looking good in a pair of skinny jeans and high-heeled boots.
For all the brands, PR folks, journalists, retailers, and industry people who’ve helped make this year special for me, I thank you, and appreciate you, and I value our relationship. Let’s make the new year the most important, most ethical, and most successful yet.
Peace out, 2017. Nothin’ but love for ya. It’s been a thin slice of heaven, truth be told.
I travel. A lot. It’s part and parcel of my career as a watch and jewelry writer and speaker, and my family and I have accepted this as our new reality. But because I travel so much, dinners at home are all the more special. I make sure our family of four sits down to a home cooked meal every night that I’m not on the road; something that – while having grown up in a rough environment – my parents made sure we did no matter the circumstances surrounding us.
Last year around Christmastime, I came across these dinner table cards called “Table Topics.” Their purpose is to get families who sit down together at mealtime to talk about different things. Some of the cards will ask questions like, “Who was the worst teacher you ever had?” Or, “What are the next three countries you’d like to visit?” In our home, each family member takes turns as to who gets to pick a card and ask the question each night, and about three months ago, my son chose a card asking each of us the following question:
“What invitation would you love to receive?”
When it was my turn to answer, I pondered whether I should go with my extreme option (an invite to attend the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they eventually tie the knot), or one that – while still far-fetched in my mind – seemed a bit more reachable.
“I’d like to be invited to Dubai Watch Week.”
And on October 19th of this year, thanks to Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons (and a few watch folks who believe in the work I put forth), that invitation came in the form of an email, and that once seemingly far-fetched wish became my reality.
I left my home for the airport on November 14th with what I believed were the essentials for a trip to the UAE: two large suitcases (weighing over one-hundred pounds total) carrying eighteen (18!!!!!!) pairs of high heels, five floor-length gowns, and a sixteen-page dossier on UAE laws, dress code recommendations, cultural etiquette, and acceptable behavior, created by my rarely nervous yet heartwarmingly protective husband.
“You promised me you’d read the entire thing before you left. Did you?”
“Todd, I read it all. Front to back. I promise. I didn’t pack any of my mini-dresses or midriffs and I’ll watch my language. You have my word.”
To give you a little context, my better half sends me off on overseas trips about as regularly as he gets a haircut these days, and never has he blinked an eye when it comes to my safety, but he and I have not yet visited the Middle East, or Dubai, or even Asia together for that matter, and since he knows I’m from Philly and that I occasionally (full disclosure: regularly) like a good four-letter word alongside my single-malt scotch, he feared I might get myself in trouble for, well, basically just being myself.
“Babe, I’ll behave. These are watch people, remember. I’d worry more if I were heading to a jewelry convention there.”
Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons did the most wonderful job of hosting the journalists who were invited to attend this year’s fair. I was flown to Dallas in order to catch the direct flight from Dallas to Dubai via business class on Emirates Airlines. Once landed, a chauffeur-driven Emirates car picked me up from Dubai International Airport to take me to the Ritz Carlton at the DIFC – The Dubai International Finance Center – where I would enjoy a six-night stay. The fair was a five-minute walk (eight minutes in five-inch heels) from the hotel, which was located in The Gate Village. The daily brisk stroll made for a perfect way to burn off a few of that morning’s breakfast calories before a day of sitting down in classes, sessions, or seminars.
The important thing for everyone to realize about this fair is that three years ago, Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons founded Dubai Watch Week with the purpose of providing an intimate environment for collectors, brands, watchmakers, and members of the press to interact with one another and share the knowledge bestowed upon them throughout their personal watch journeys. This is not a money-maker for the company. They are not an exhibition group that was formed with the sole purpose of creating and managing trade shows. This is a multi-generational family business that started in the 1940’s with a single watch shop in Dubai’s Souk Bur, which has grown into a Swiss watch conglomerate that now operates close to two dozen watch boutiques. Dubai Watch Week is – in a way – a form of giving back to the community of watch collectors and enthusiasts who have been patrons of their business, while also allowing the watchmakers and brand representatives to speak directly to those most interested, usually through some form of education. The concept is both brilliant and refreshing, and I realized those facts before ever having stepped foot in the country.
November 16th was a day set aside for opening ceremonies and press previews, while the days of the 17th through the 20th were meticulously planned out, with the program being curated with an extreme amount of thought and care. Attendees were treated to watchmaking master classes taught by the likes of David Candaux, Vanessa Cellier, Adriano Toninelli, Issa Sulaiman, Antoine Preziuso, Florian Preziuso, and the legendary Kurt Klaus. Tiago Aires Sergio was on hand to teach engraving master classes and Jiyoun Han-Parrat with the Vanessa Lecci Atelier taught miniature painting as well as enameling master classes.
Regarding the layout of the fair itself, there were eleven numbered “halls” set up around the DIFC gate that included two watch halls (titled “Classic & Contemporary 1 & 2), the FHH exhibition, the GPHG exhibition, the Master Classes center, the Creative Hub (where brands often held their press conferences), the Horology Forum (where the seminars and panels took place), the Auction & Evaluation Room, the Virtual Reality exhibit, Citizen Kafe (an eatery), and Lounge 1010 (also, an eatery).
Two of the things that stood out for me personally at the fair were firstly, the presence of watch women in both physical form and as topics during the forums, and secondly, the presence of children and the importance placed on getting children involved and interested in horology at an early age; especially if we’re to raise the next generation of watchmakers. A few of my close friends know that I’m currently working on watch projects that directly relate to these points (which will be revealed at Baselworld), so to see this happening in a place like Dubai brought sheer joy to my heart.
I could spend the next one thousand words of this article rolling off the highlights of Dubai Watch Week or what I learned or took away from it all (because believe me, I learned and took away so much), but it’s getting pretty lengthy as it is, so I’ll simply mention some of my favorite personal moments below:
- Visiting Max’s M.A.D. Gallery in the city in which he and his family live (and meeting his wife and daughter, finally!).
- Watching Alexander Friedman and Suzanne Wong go toe-to-toe on women’s issues during a Horology Forum panel while still maintaining their friendship.
- Intermission shots even when there wasn’t an intermission.
- CHARRIS. ‘Nuff said.
- Getting to use two of the five floor-length gowns I packed.
- Learning how to properly pronounce Kristian Haagen’s name while simultaneously letting him know that his socks didn’t match. Again.
- Frequenting cigar bars alongside watch-wearing Italians, Arabs, Turks, the Swiss, and the French, and thinking that the whole world should be this happy.
- Breakfasts with my Watchonista squad.
- Finally picking up the badge with my name on it after using a blank one for the first three days of the fair. (D’oh!)
- Listening to Kurt Klaus make the most sensible statements out of everyone during the millennial forum
- Meeting a few of my journalist colleagues for the first time after having been connected on social media for quite a while (special shouts out to Robert-Jan and Jason).
- “Watch your step.”
- The ink-infused moments in the corner of the VC cocktail party with Christian, Kristian, and Marc André.
- Interviewing everyone I was able to for my “Classic or Contemporary” post on Watchonista.
- Hanging with Carlos Torres (because that will always make my list for any fair, anywhere).
- Getting a media badge for François-Paul only to have him attach it to his head.
- Did I mention Charris?
A very special thank you to Melika, Jihane, Shruti, Wasen, Hind, and everyone at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons who made my first visit to Dubai and Dubai Watch Week one I’ll never forget. I know that the fair won’t be held again until 2020, but I implore you, never let the energy of this magnificent event fade away. It is needed. It is wanted. It is unlike anything else in the world. And you all should be very, very proud of your hard work.
(Images provided by Dubai Watch Week.)